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Notes from the Arizona Tennis Classic

Matt Zemek

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Jerry Lai -- USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday was the one day of the week in which this native Phoenician was able to attend the first-ever Arizona Tennis Classic, the new $125K ATP Tour Challenger event in Phoenix at the venerable Phoenix Country Club.

In roughly five and a half hours of tennis, this is what I saw:

— David Goffin is clearly in search of his best tennis. Naturally, playing a challenger in Arizona between Indian Wells and Miami to stay sharp is not where he would prefer to be, or what he would prefer to do. However, he does need to play his way into form, so the decision makes complete sense. Wednesday night, against Roberto Carballes Baena, it certainly seemed that Goffin was measuring his game and trying to win without overtaxing his body, since he knows he will need some more fuel for Miami when he gets there.

Goffin, having been a major quarterfinalist and an ATP Finals runner-up, knows he can play at a high level, so it certainly seemed to me that he was holding something in reserve in a comfortable 1-and-4 win over Roberto Carballes Baena, who needed to have an above-average serving night and simply wasn’t able to deliver. Goffin was broken twice in the second set yet still gained a double-break lead and closed out the match on his second chance to serve out the proceedings. Yep — that’s how ineffective Carballes Baena’s serve was. It was a quick, low-stress win for Goffin, who hit backhands to the middle third of the court all night long and did not allow Carballes Baena to hit very many offensive forehands.

Casper Ruud is willing to be self-critical in a vocal way on court during a match, but he turns that vocalization into the important process of flushing out negative energy and quickly resetting his own internal dial. Ruud was wiped out in the first set by Elias Ymer of Sweden, 6-1, but then came roaring back to take the last two sets fairly convincingly. Ymer has a very compact and economical set of strokes, but Ruud hits a heavier ball and can put more shape on it. That was apparent in the last two sets. Ymer displayed a willingness to come to net but couldn’t deaden his touch volleys enough to keep them out of Ruud’s reach.

Lukas Lacko could have played rugby or American football (as a free safety) if he didn’t play tennis. The man is BUILT when you see him up close. John Millman has what basketball coaches call “length.” He isn’t towering so much as he is rangy, which makes him a solid defensive player. Millman’s groundstrokes were more consistent, but Lacko consistently fought him all the way in a two-tiebreaker, three-set thriller. Millman served for the match at 6-5 in the third. Lacko broke to force a breaker. Millman flourished in that final drama to escape.

One thing I hardly ever saw in almost six hours of up-close tennis: slice backhands. What are those, anyway?

I don’t get to travel to tennis tournaments because of a lack of funds. Given this unique opportunity to watch tennis in person, I can only amplify what others say: Modern tennis is a VIOLENT sport. Some of the loud squeaks created by Goffin — when hitting running defensive forehands and then stopping on a dime in order to recover in court coverage to the middle third of the court behind the baseline — would have awakened my mom’s neighbors on our quiet Phoenix street.

The running isn’t the hardest part of what tennis players do; it’s the abrupt stopping, the abrupt reversal of direction, and the bending when running which truly strain the body… and when all this happens on hardcourts, the strain becomes even worse.

If you are in Phoenix¬† or will be in Phoenix for the next few days — the weather will be sunny and in the mid-70s Friday through Sunday — get tickets for the Arizona Tennis Classic here.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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